A couple of years ago I read a poignant book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, by Australian author Bronnie Ware. In it, she describes her experiences working in hospice care and the profound lessons learned from the dying people she cared for and grew close to in the process. Many of the dying shared their life’s regrets with her, and common themes surfaced again and again. Ware condensed them into the 5 most common regrets, published them in an online article (which quickly went viral), and then went on to expand the article into what became a popular book.
Now, early in the New Year, as I join much of the country in reflecting on “where I’ve been and where I’m going,” this lovely book came to mind and is just as moving a read the second time around. We can learn great lessons from those who are near death and looking back at their lives. By reflecting on their words of wisdom and following their advice we can hope to have fewer regrets when we are approaching death ourselves. Here is Ware’s list of the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:
Regret 1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Regret 2: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Regret 3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Regret 4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Regret 5: I wish I had let myself be happier.
To be honest, this was at first a hard list for me to face, because truth really resonates, doesn’t it? I know I fall short of my ideal in every one of those areas. It’s hard in the midst of our fast paced, chaotic lives, to take the time to examine ourselves for authenticity and work-life balance. Making changes where they are needed is hard. For those, like me, who lean more towards the ‘introvert’ side of the emotional spectrum and who are expert at avoiding confrontation, having the courage to honestly and openly express feelings is easier imagined than actually done. Staying in touch with friends is a challenge when schedules are full on both sides. And the emotional and psychological games that we adults so often like to play with ourselves and others can place all kinds of obstacles in the way of real happiness.
Each of the regrets listed in Ware’s book struck a chord with me – and, apparently, with many others, since her book is a bestseller. But identifying those regrets also gives so much hope and encouragement for positive change. We can use them as motivators to examine our own lives. What a blessing to be able to learn from the regrets of others. Cheers to a revised list of Resolutions for the New Year.